Tuesday, February 13, 2018

To Each his Own

Diagram from Woodcok's patent showing arangement of desks on the diagonalHave you ever wondered whether there was a reason for the arrangement of student desks in school rooms? Well, in 1855, Virgil Woodcock of Swanzey, New Hampshire, did. A carpenter by profession, Woodcock argued that his “Diagonal Arrangement,” which included favoring single desks over double desks, had many benefits. Firstly, it would provide each student with “a separate desk and chair” thereby giving the student “full control of his books and writing.” In addition, he declared that this arrangement “releases every one from any interference with another and gives to all the privilege of inhaling the pure air, without taking it second handed from the one sitting near him.”

From his description it appears that the separation of one student from another was the key thinking behind his idea,
[N]o one scholar can see the face of another without one of the two being at right or left half face. When school is called to procession, all can rise at once and step into files in the aisles without coming in contact with one another.
Trying to sell this new concept to teachers, he pointed out to them that “scholars are more directly in view of the teacher, and can therefore be kept in better order, which greatly diminishes the labor of the teacher.”

Woodcock submitted his arrangement to the US Patent office and on March 6, 1855, was granted a patent “for the term of fourteen years.”

Woodcock’s pamphlet is part of a notebook containing signatures of school commissioners, teachers and other notables approving of the new arrangement, some of whom also provided Woodcock with affidavits to that effect. Both items are part of Codex 003426.

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